If your senior loved one has received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, you may be experiencing a lot of complex emotions. You may not know what your next steps are or how best to take care of your loved one in the long term. It’s essential to seek resources and support, such as caregiver support groups, so you can provide the best care for your loved one while serving as their advocate.
Your loved one may be safe living on their own or with a caregiver now, but Alzheimer’s disease or dementia are progressive conditions, so your loved one will eventually need extra support and assistance in order to stay active and healthy. You may not be considering a memory care community yet, but it’s important to do your research early so you have a solid plan in place if the time ever does become right.
Let’s explore what you should look for during tours of memory care communities so you can make informed decisions for your loved one.
What Does a Memory Care Community Offer?
Memory care communities offer special assistance for residents with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. They also provide additional security measures compared to other types of senior living communities to protect residents and prevent them from wandering too far from home.
Changes in routine produce stress for those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, and stress can lead to additional cognitive complications. The best memory care communities offer customized care, such as tailored programming and a daily routine based on what your loved one prefers.
Following a dementia care routine provides many benefits for those dealing with memory loss, including creating a sense of security and improving self-care. Whether your loved one is an early bird or prefers to sleep in, the staff members at the right memory care community should follow your loved one’s preferences to provide a comforting, secure environment.
When Should We Look for a Memory Care Community?
One of the top questions families dealing with dementia ask is how to know when it’s time to consider a memory care community.
It may be time to consider memory care under the following circumstances:
- It’s no longer safe for your loved one to live on their own.
- Your loved one’s physical health is declining.
- There are changes in your loved one’s behavior.
- Your loved one is experiencing frequent mood swings.
- Your loved one is experiencing confusion and disorientation that may compromise physical safety.
- Your loved one is experiencing incontinence.
Start developing a plan early on for what your next steps are so they can participate in as many decisions about their own ongoing care as possible.
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What Should We Look For in a Memory Care Community?
When you’re exploring memory care community options, you should look for several key characteristics to ensure you’re making an informed decision for your loved one.
1. A Welcoming and Clean Memory Care Environment
Memory care communities should offer a comforting experience for residents and their families from the start, and exceptional memory care communities will feel like home from the moment a visitor enters the building. A bit of genuine hospitality goes a long way in setting the tone for your loved one’s memory care experience.
A few observations can help you determine if the community you are touring is dedicated to providing a welcoming, clean, and home-like environment:
- First, look for a friendly team member who greets you and warmly welcomes you into the community.
- Next, observe the environment for cozy touches like door decorations, snacks and drinks, and artwork. Listen for music playing, and add extra points if a community has seasonal aromatherapy throughout the community.
- Lastly, ensure the community is clean and comfortable. Say no to a community that has a strong odor, dirty floors, or a clinical look. Remember, a memory care community should feel welcoming and comfortable, not like a hospital.
2. Genuine Relationships Between Staff and Residents
Person-inspired care begins with a true and genuine relationship between memory care team members and residents. It’s this commitment to getting to know the history and preferences of each individual resident that will set one memory care community apart from others.
Look for residents and team members interacting with one another in the hallways, dining room, and everywhere in the community. Listen for shared jokes, encouraging responses, and team members calling residents by name. You’ll see and feel when a community is built on these genuine relationships, and those relationships are key for finding the right memory care community.
3. Delicious and Adaptive Dining Opportunities
Maintaining health and nutrition is important, but food should also be delicious. The best senior living communities have innovative food options that meet every dietary need while still being enjoyable to eat.
During your tour, take note of the dining room and the following characteristics:
- Make sure it feels lively and social, with neighbors and team members chatting in between sips of coffee or bites of a meal.
- Look at a menu to ensure multiple choices are offered throughout the day so residents can pick what looks good to them at the moment.
- Ask what types of adaptations team members make for residents who are too antsy to sit for a full meal or who have swallowing difficulties. Dignified and creative approaches should be offered for every resident with dining challenges.
- Ask if there are plenty of opportunities for family members to dine with their loved ones, including any special family events that might take place monthly or quarterly.
4. Spacious and Personalized Apartments
The entire community should feel comfortable, complete with social spaces like libraries, outdoor spaces, and living rooms. Residents will spend some time in their apartments, too, and the setup of these spaces are equally as important.
Find a memory care community that has designed apartments to reduce fall risk and confusion, in addition to feeling comfortable. Look for multiple floor plan options, typically either a studio or one-bedroom layout. Ensure apartments are spacious enough and provide the opportunity to personalize with family photos, favorite artwork, or even an heirloom furniture piece that will make it feel welcoming for your loved one.
Ask about security and safety. Look for emergency pull cords in the bathrooms and apartments. Keep an eye out for locking mechanisms on the community doors that decrease the risk of unsafe wandering. You can also inquire about specific design details that reduce fall risk and increase residents’ comfort.
5. Engaging Events and Opportunities
Socialization with neighbors and team members is a key component of positive dementia care. Positive socialization and peer support can help residents thrive in exceptional communities. However, all that healthy socialization doesn’t just happen on its own—it requires a dedicated effort from the team.
On your tour, look for residents interacting and engaging with one another over a game, reading a book in the library, watering plants in the garden, or participating in other group activities. Ask to see a copy of the community’s monthly calendar and ensure there are programs and events offered on a regular basis. A variety of options might include live concerts, socials, reminiscing groups, exercise classes, and craft workshops.
Last but not least, ask if residents have the opportunity to take excursions at least monthly to their favorite spots nearby. These trips are wonderful ways for residents to remain a part of the greater community. You can even ask if family members can meet residents while out and about or if you could volunteer to assist with some on-site programs.
6. Caring Team Members
The true magic of memory care communities comes from the team members who work there. These professionals are not only in charge of caring for residents but also for creating personalized and positive interactions throughout the day to meet the needs of every resident.
When you tour a community, observe team members and how they interact with residents and each other. Ask what types of training in dementia best practices are required prior to working in the community, as well as what types of ongoing education are offered to team members.
See a Memory Care Community in Person
Knowing what to look for in a memory care community can help you make a more confident, informed decision for your senior loved one. However, you may not find out all of the information you need from one tour through the community. Before you leave, ask if you can come back to experience an event or have a meal with your loved one so both of you can experience the community in action.
Make sure you’re also talking about the costs of memory care now and in the future for your loved one. Get started by learning more about senior living pricing with our free resource, The Insider’s Guide to Memory Care Pricing.
Originally published October 2021. Revised October 2023.